BHS students in new entrepreneurship program start employee appreciation business

WeAreWorkers: ‘I never thought I'd do something like this in high school before this class’


BYRON — A new entrepreneurship program at Byron High School has yielded a small business startup named WeAreWorkers, created by students Westin Harrolle and Ole Wulf. 

WeAreWorkers looks to improve workplace morale for local businesses by offering customized appreciation boxes aimed at showing employees that their efforts are valued. Each box is tailored to the business and contains a selection of gifts and treats to express appreciation and recognition for employees' hard work. 

Harrolle, a junior at BHS, said the idea came about after he heard his father, a union foreman, speaking about trying to reach employees.

“He'd notice that sometimes they would feel unappreciated,” Harrolle said. “That gave me the idea of what if we gave them some form of appreciation to help them feel better about their company? And then they'd feel more appreciated and work harder. Our first product was called the essentials box and has things like chapstick, hand sanitizer and tissues. Just little essential things to give to employees to thank them for their work. It has a little message on it with the company's branding.”

Among the companies WeAreWorkers is working with is Dos Amigos, and Harrolle and Wulf dropped off its boxes on April 29. Gift cards and snacks can also be included in the boxes. WeAreWorkers talks with companies about what they’d like in the boxes and the startup purchases and packs the items. 

In the BHS entrepreneurship program, students are tasked with identifying real-world problems and developing innovative solutions through entrepreneurship. The course is guided by the icubatoredu program, which also allows students to earn college credit.

Wulf, a sophomore at BHS, is an exchange student from Germany. He said the class has helped him to learn more about business culture in the United States. 

“I've learned a lot,” Wulf said. “We've learned about the global business world. The process has been the most fun part. We started at nothing and now we have a product to sell. It's the journey that's made it the most fun.”

Harrolle and Wulf have a desire to continue with the business after their time in the class ends. It may even be run worldwide after Wulf returns to Germany, they said. 

On May 1, the entrepreneurship program held a shark tank event where students pitched ideas in front of investors. For the best pitch the process yielded a check towards their new business. 

“This class has been great,” Harrolle said. “Even if you don't want to do entrepreneurship later on in life, you still learn a ton of good lessons from this class. You practice making pitches in front of investors and it really helps you grow your skills as a person. It's made me more likely to want to get into entrepreneurship later on in life. I've learned a ton from this class. It's helped us to get out of our comfort zones. We've talked to seven businesses. And it's just an idea we've created in this class. We've put a lot into it. I never thought I'd do something like this in high school before this class. The class made my thoughts blossom.”

Rich Wessel is the instructor of the BHS entrepreneurship course and praised Harrolle, Wulf and the rest of the students in the class for their work. The class is in its first year. He’s enjoyed seeing kids get out of their comfort zones and watching their ideas grow. 

Other student businesses from the class include KidTrip, an Uber-like service to get kids to different activities safely, and KJK Woodburning, which makes signs out of reusable materials. 

“It's going great,” Wessel said. “These kids are learning soft skills that many students lack. I was in the business world before teaching and I saw the massive lack of people having the ability to get up in front of people and share and communicate. That's why we've started this program. They learn intangible skills. They'll be ahead with workplace readiness skills. They'll be at an advantage. We're all learning together with how new this class is. This first year has definitely exceeded my expectations as far as student work and the effort they've put into it and what they're getting out of it.”

Community leaders and businesses have gotten involved in the program. Members of the community have come in to serve as mentors to the students and give them strategic advice and some have even helped with funding. Wessel said that has helped the program to reach new heights. 

BHS wants to instill entrepreneurial skills in students with the new program.

“In the past, education in general has pushed students towards college,” Wessel said. “And I think that's not necessarily the full message anymore. The ability to be valuable in the marketplace in any way you decide to do it is important. This program will help with college if that's their choice, but it also teaches grit and hustle. That can help people who don't have college in mind. That's OK and they can become valuable in the marketplace without college. If you put the time and effort in, you can be successful.”